President Bush has announced plans to institute a “Z” Visa, which he has claimed would help illegal immigrants on a path to legal residency. Many illegal immigrants in New York feel betrayed by President Bush, who they considered as a possible ally because (unlike most Republicans in Congress), Bush has repeatedly said he favors giving many illegal immigrants the opportunity to obtain legal residency and ultimately citizenship.
The White House’s draft plan would allow illegal immigrant workers to apply for three-year work permits. They would be renewable indefinitely, although at a hefty $3,500 each time. Then to become legal permanent residents, illegal immigrants would have to return to their home country, apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate to re-enter legally and pay a $10,000 fine.
The “Z” Visa proposal has been sharply criticized by Hispanic advocacy groups, many Congressional Democrats, and unions that have large immigrant memberships. They argue that the cost of work permits and the green card application — which could total more than $20,000 — are prohibitive for low-wage earners.
The proposal is far more conservative than the one passed by the Senate last year with bipartisan support as well as the approval of President Bush. That plan would have allowed many of the country’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to stay and work in the United States, and apply to become legal residents, provided that they learned English, paid small fines and back taxes, and cleared background checks.
Many Senate conservatives opposed that plan, and it failed to gain sufficient support in the then Republican-controlled House, which at the end of 2005 passed an immigration reform bill that angered immigrants and led to protests throughout the United States.
Maria Lopez, 50, an illegal immigrant who works as a seamstress and sends $200 a month to family members in Mexico, stated: “We have no way to come up with that much money, and Bush knows that,” she said. “He is doing this on purpose so we don’t ever become legal residents.”
It remains to be seen if the “Z” Visa will gain the necessary bipartisan support necessary to become law, especially in light of the contradictory messages being sent by Congress on a daily basis on the issue of immigration reform.